Category Archives: class plans

Teaching Anne Bradstreet through deformance


This evening in EN340 is the first class of full-on literary analysis, and we are reading several of Anne Bradstreet’s poems. I love starting with Bradstreet in this class because we’re discussing seventeenth- and eighteenth-century women’s writing as a political and self-conscious act that is in some ways always about its status as “women’s writing.” So we are starting with Bradstreet, paying special attention to how she theorizes her agency as a writer–we’ll probably spend most of our time looking at “The Prologue” to The Tenth Muse, and “The Author to Her Book,” though I really hope we get a chance to talk about her poem to her husband, Simon Bradstreet, who is “Absent upon Publick Employment.” Rereading it today paints such a home picture of her passion within Puritanism:

In this dead time, alas, what can I more
Than view those fruits which through thy heat I bore?

I don’t have children, but…. I get her point! At any rate, this is a course that fulfills our LT-2 core requirement and is also writing intensive. So, I have no English majors or minors, and few with recent experience in close reading. I will start with an overview of Bradstreet, and then spend a bit of time discussing how to read poetry, using the piece by Edward Hirsch, which I find conversational enough to be compelling without being formulaic. Then, we’ll discuss one or two poems, and finally, I’ll have an activity where students work in pairs to enact a deformance on “The Author to Her Book.”

My goal with this activity is twofold: first, to help students feel more competent with close reading through some fairly mechanical activities that can reveal unexpected things about the texture and the content of the language, and second, to get into a broader discussion of how Bradstreet is imagining her agency as a writer and as a mother. What rhetorical strategies does she use, and why? Are there any fissures or points of friction between those rhetorical strategies? What images can she (and can’t she) use, and under what circumstances?

From my handout:

“Deformance” refers to a mode of altering or “deforming” the text so that you can see something new about it–it’s a neologism combining “deform” and “performance”. This is often done with computers on mass scales, but we’ll do it by hand today and only with one poem so that you get the hang of it and begin to see why it might be useful. It is also a helpful technique in general to look for the way that nouns are being used, or the kinds of verbs at play, or whether there is a preponderance of prepositions or conjunctions, and so on.


Here’s a sample from “The Prologue,” where I eliminate all words but nouns from one stanza:
Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 4.28.29 PMIf students aren’t sure of what part of speech something is, I direct them to google’s define:xxx feature:

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 4.10.52 PM

  • Group 1: Nouns only
  • Group 2: Adjectives only
  • Group 3: Verbs only
  • Group 4: Adverbs only
  • Group 5: Prepositions and articles
  • Group 6: Pronouns (possessive, demonstrative, and regular)



Introducing Patricia Highsmith


Tomorrow I meet for the first time with my EN490: Major Authors course, which I’m so excited about! It’s a larger class than I’d anticipated, but hey–the more the merrier. And, the more folks I can turn to into followers of Patricia Highsmith, the better! This is a writing intensive class, so we’ll be doing weekly critical responses (or revisions to previous responses) in preparation for two substantial essays. But, instead of a final exam, I’m giving the class the opportunity to stage a public event of some sort around Highsmith’s films and/or their research over the course of the term. Students will be responsible for envisioning, organizing, advertising, and executing the event. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.

We’re reading four novels this term, in conjunction with some short stories and three films–of the novels, I’ve included Strangers on a Train, The Cry of the Owl, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and The Price of Salt–now that I’ve ordered the books and everything is set to go, I’m sort of wishing we were reading Deep Water. But I think we’ve got more than enough on our plate as it is, especially since we’re only meeting once a week.

Our first class, I’m hoping to get more on board with my twitter backchannel experiment, and I can’t forget to discuss the crowd-sourced class policies–I somehow got sidetracked in 240 and 203, though I did remember to ask students in 240 to review mine and consider what they would change. We’ll go over the projects, Highsmith’s biography and her critical reception, and then read one or two of her short stories to start our discussion. I’m still trying to figure out which short stories would be best for the purpose–maybe “Quiet Night” or “Oona, the Jolly Cave Woman.” What fun! I was also able to arrange a guest lecture for the third week of classes–one of my colleagues will come to give an overview of American crime fiction, and particularly its gendering, as a context for Highsmith. I say again: what fun!


What will the first day of classes hold?


Tomorrow I will meet for the first time with two of my three classes, EN203: World Literature 1450-1800, and EN240: Introduction to Visual and Cultural Study. I’ve had the real pleasure of teaching EN203 a few times before, so I’m looking forward to adding some new texts and removing a couple I’ve grown–how shall I say–bored with. I will stay on track this year and actually get to Olaudah Equiano–and, I’m going to revisit Kant’s “What Is Enlightenment?”, which I haven’t been able to teach since the first iteration of the course. We’re still going to work through Sor Juana’s “Reply to Sor Filotea,” though I’ve noticed that the Norton includes virtually the entire text, while the Longman has excerpted a nice piece. We’re also doing some South Asian poets near the beginning of the term, as a good counterpoint to Western European lyric poetry–so exciting! For the first time, I’m asking students to read some material around biblical translations during the Reformation, too.

EN240 is virtually a new course for me, though I’ve taught it once before; this time around, I’ve selected different texts–Ryan’s Cultural Studies: A Practical Introduction and the graphic-novel-ish Introducing Cultural Studies–supported by timely excerpts from theoretical sources. My pledge to self this term in EN240, you ask? Have fun, and don’t overburden the students with Althusser or Meagan Morris’ very rich essay on shopping centers. And have fun. The schedule is very, very different this time around, not least because it’s a course that meets for three hours once a week–I’m honestly a little worried about the utility of that schedule for a 200-level course, so we’ll see what happens. But, I’m assigning fewer highly-specific projects, in order to give students more flexibility to address topics interesting to them, and reining in the final project to ensure I don’t have too many different kinds of projects–students will be able to choose from three options: 1.) creating a critical commentary on a five-minute clip from Source Code, uploaded to YouTube, 2.) create a critical commentary on a contemporary television advertisement, ditto, and 3.) create a five-minute mini-documentary on a topic covered in class, illustrated and narrated a La Jetee, ditto. Finally, students will be producing a term portfolio using Google sites including a selection of revised responses, their two major projects, and some self-assessment. We’re also going to take a trip to the Museum of American History to explore “For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights,” a joint exhibition by the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture (UMBC) and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. I’m interested in having students consider the exhibit as an exercise in what “visual culture” is, as well as some of the public history and policy issues associated with museum exhibitions. It’s shaping up to be an energizing term, though this past week has been exhausting.

On a related note, I’d planned on creating Facebook groups for each of my courses, which students could use to communicate with their peers, ask questions, and post interesting web finds, but something seems to have changed there–if anyone’s reading, do you know what happened to the old FB groups? I’m going back to my original plan, which was to set up twitter hashtags for each of the courses, which students can use in the same way. This will be a novelty for me, so I’m planning on using it as a test-case, explaining it to students in that way; purely voluntary, but users can see an extra bump in participation grades.


Day One…


What’s on the agenda for EN102 and EN200 today? Well, I’d like to start thinking about the coursework right off the bat–it’s always best, in my book, to begin challenging the class so as to set a productive tone. Especially in composition 2, where students generally need practice with managing time and approaching tasks effectively. But we’re also going to be watching a lot of films in that class, and I’ve learned from previous terms that requiring outside meetings can prove difficult–I’ve set aside time in class to watch our four films this term, or at least excerpts of them.

Today, in 102, I want to begin learning names and transforming the classroom into a comfortable space for discussion–but also into a challenging workspace. I want to start by having students introduce themselves and say a few words about their knowledge of the 1920s. Then, I’ll ask each student to write a similar introduction, so we can begin discussing some of the differences between spoken and written language (but also addressing some of the misconceptions about writing!). I also want to introduce the first assignment generally, paying special attention to the “no verb to be” clause; finally, I think it would be fun to challenge the students, in groups, to rewrite someone’s introduction without any verbs to be. For homework, reading the syllabus, visiting facebook and our wiki, the first project sheet, and the “Introduction” from The Modern Temper.

In Elements of Literary Study, I’m really excited to see what my students can do with a single poem, in a sort of diagnostic activity. We’ll be working with Stanley Kunitz’s “Among the Gods,” so as to begin introducing a few key themes of the course and techniques of close reading. After introducing ourselves, giving a basic overview of the course materials, and reading the poem aloud, I’d like them to begin discussing the poem in pairs, taking notes on the poem to look forward to the first part of the explication project. Then, individually each student will write for 10-15 minutes on the poem, trying to observe as many details as possible while beginning to suggest effects of those choices. I also need to show them the Literature Resource Center Online, to set up for the first homework assignment.

Don’t forget to go over the course technologies, either!


New Classes, Old Classes, Reimagined Classes


Classes resume on the 11th of January for us here at Marymount, and I have to admit, last term was a bit of a supersonic blur–and the holiday “break” was anything but, given our trip to Philadelphia for a serious several days of interviews. Syllabi are due on the 4th (er, that would be today!), and I’ve been working on my class wiki for the upcoming term. This term, I’m also going to be experimenting with facebook as a teaching and communication tool, though I’m a bit worried that not every student will be using the platform already. Ideally, I would be able to find a simple widget that would allow simultaneous cross-posts on Blackboard, PBworks, and facebook. But that doesn’t really look like it’s going to happen…. Thank goodness for graduate student assistants!

So, in the Spring I’m returning to Composition 102, a writing course that engages the 1920s through film, as well as Elements of Literary Study, a writing/research/introduction to the discipline course that I’ve designed around classical Ovidian myths, folktales, and their adaptations in a variety of genres. My new class for the term is Studies in the Novel, a 400-level majors and honors student course subtitled “Selling Stories of Sex and Gender in the 18th Century Novel.” We’ll be reading novels by Defoe, Richardson, Cleland, Lennox, and Dacre, supplemented by shorter pieces by Haywood and Fielding, in addition, if possible, to a few other primary source contextual materials. The course will be organized around the web, in a very loose sense, as students will contribute their materials for presentations and discussion leadership projects to the class wiki; in addition, I’m going to replace the last, long essay with a “research web” students will create around a topic they’re interested in. A little along the lines of David Porter’s Eighteenth-Century England, but with less emphasis on a coherent project and more on discovering a topic, presenting relevant research materials, and organizing the site. In Elements of Literary Study, I’ll also be returning to the wiki as a classroom tool, for the explication project and the collaborative research project–however, I’ll definitely need to tweak the assignment for the collaborative work, as students last year found it difficult to keep the kinds of annotations they were to do straight. I’d also like to emphasize the use of hyperlinks to create a coherent whole for the collaborative project–though the pages are rapidly multiplying, and I’ll probably also need to have a GA organize it into folders and prepare a document for students on navigating them. In the future, it might be useful to have a priced site, but for now, the free PBworks seems to do what’s needed.

New year’s resolution? To use this blog the way it should be used!